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'Father's' Secret Dacha: The Uzbek President's Mountain Hideaway
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The state-owned Uzbek company at the center of an RFE/RL investigation into a secret luxury mountain resort allegedly built for President Shavkat Mirziyoev has dismissed the report as "unfounded and untrue."

The investigation led by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, published on February 23, lifted the curtain on a luxurious mansion allegedly built for Mirziyoev in the protected Ugam-Chatkal National Park about 100 kilometers northeast of Tashkent.

Uzbekistan Railways, a sprawling state-owned company that spearheaded construction of the mountain resort, said in a statement posted on its website on February 24 that the Shovvozsoy River area was transferred to the company in 2010 to "preserve the existing ecosystem."

It added that over the past 10 years, the company used extra-budgetary funds amounting to 495 billion soms ($43 million) to develop infrastructure and recreation facilities in the park. In addition to the Shovvozsoy complex, other resorts in the area employ 90,000 people, the company said.

"In these resorts and sanatoriums on the basis of contracts and referrals with JSC 'Uzbekistan Railways,' along with the railwaymen, the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Cabinet of Ministers, various ministries, departments and government agencies, as well as local investors, ecotourism and extreme tourism, health promotion and rehabilitation services are provided to partners and tourists," it said.

The statement, however, did not address several outstanding questions over the project, leaving it shrouded in secrecy.

Construction of the compound, which features helicopter landing pads and is subject to a no-fly zone, began in 2017 and was largely completed by the end of 2018.

Locals say a new reservoir built next to the compound has disrupted their water supply, displaced families, and caused environmental damage.

Construction of the adjacent reservoir was carried out by the politically connected company involved in the building of the Sardoba Dam in eastern Uzbekistan, which burst in 2020, leaving six people dead and forcing thousands from their homes, the RFE/RL investigation revealed.

Officials have never publicly explained the reservoir and resort, nor have they provided information about the costs, which multiple RFE/RL sources estimated at several hundred million dollars to build.

Construction workers said they were forced to hand over their phones while working on site, and roadblocks and security guards prevent the public from approaching the area.

Since coming to power in 2017, Mirziyoev has portrayed himself as committed to improving transparency, human rights protections, and anti-corruption efforts in the Central Asian nation of 30 million, striking a contrast to his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov.

Russia labeled the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist group and banned it in 2017, leading to a wave of court cases and prison sentences against its members.

A Russian court has sentenced a mother and her son to prison as part of ongoing persecution of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group.

A court in Abakan in the Siberian region of Khakassia on February 24 sentenced Roman Baranovsky to six years in prison and his mother, Valentina Baranovskaya, to two years, the group said.

Baranovskaya, 69, is the first woman to be imprisoned from the religious group. Last year, she suffered a stroke.

Addressing the court in a final statement, Baranovskaya condemned Russia for the "shameful persecutions against the most peaceful, kind, and law-abiding citizens of its country."

The Jehovah's Witnesses said the verdicts will be appealed.

Russia labeled the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist group and banned it in 2017, leading to a wave of court cases and prison sentences against its members.

For decades, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, rejection of military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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